UCLA professor draws parallels between universe, human brain

By Arielle Maxner

A subsection of the Robotics Club advanced to the semifinals of the Zero Robotics Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites Challenge for coding a satellite.

The team is made up of Matt Heartney ’12, Julie Ko ’12 and Eden Weizman ’13.

The team is mentored by computer science teacher Jacob Hazard, but the team is “entirely student-led, Heartney said.

The Challenge is a “robotics programming competition where the robots are SPHERES satellites inside the International Space Station,” according to the Zero Robotics website.

In the competition, teams work to “get a satellite to perform certain tasks, like orbiting an asteroid,” through the strength of their programming code, Weizman said.

“Part of the game involves melting ice around an asteroid by shooting lasers at it,” Heartney said. “You have to work on making your satellite aim directly at the asteroid because stray lasers are a bad thing. You also have to manage your fuel because there is a limited amount of fuel, and it’s very easy to run out.”

“We were a bit understaffed,” Heartney said. “[Ko, Weizman and I] were the only people who really had time to work on this. We’re really a team of three, as opposed to most teams which have about 10 people. But we did fairly well. I believe we were 49 out of 149 teams.”

“The first phase was a 2-D competition,” Heartney said. “What you’re supposed to do in the first phase is program the SPHERES to revolve around an asteroid and then go to a mining station after a predetermined time.”

“The second phase was a 3-D competition,” Weizman said. “It’s like the original competition, except you are required to move within 3-D space, instead of just two dimensions.”

In the semifinals, about the top 54 teams are combined into alliances, Heartney said.
“From those alliances, we are basically reworking our 3-D code to make it better,” he said.

“Right now, we’re in an alliance with two other teams from the east coast,” Weizman said. “It’s the best of everyone’s code. We’re going to combine it into one sort of master code, and then we’ll be pitted against another alliance.”

If the team makes it through the semifinals, they will have the chance to have their code put on real satellites on the ISS.

“If we get to the finals, then what we are doing goes into space,” Heartney said. “It’s super awesome.”